Academy Board Endorses Changes to Increase Diversity in Oscar Nominees and Itself


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“The academy is going to lead and not wait for the industry to catch up,” said Cheryl Boone Isaacs, the academy’s president.

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LOS ANGELES — Confronting a fierce protest over a second straight year of all-white Oscar acting nominations, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences on Friday said it would make radical changes to its voting requirements, recruiting process and governing structure, with an aim toward increasing the diversity of its membership.

The changes were approved at an unusual special meeting of the group’s 51-member governing board Thursday night. The session ended with a unanimous vote to endorse the new processes, but action on possible changes to Oscar balloting was deferred for later consideration. The board said its goal was to double the number of female and minority members by 2020.

“The academy is going to lead and not wait for the industry to catch up,” the academy’s president, Cheryl Boone Isaacs, said in a statement. Ms. Isaacs referred to an often-repeated complaint that the academy, in its lack of diversity, reflects the demographics of a film industry that for years has been primarily white and male.

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The most striking of the changes is a requirement that the voting status of both new and current members be reviewed every 10 years.

Voting status may be revoked for those who have not been active in the film business in a decade. But members will have lifetime voting rights after three 10-year terms, as will those who have won or been nominated for an Academy Award.

It was not immediately clear how many members would be purged from the voting rolls by the new rule. But the step, which aims to replace older members with a younger, more diverse group, is certain to be met with criticism, and perhaps resistance, from some.

“I’m squarely in what I would call the mentorship phase of my life,” said Sam Weisman, who has been a member of the Academy’s directors’ branch since 1998, but has had no directing credit since “Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star” in 2003.

“I judge the Nicholl fellowships and the student academy awards, but am I not qualified to vote?” asked Mr. Weisman, referring to academy mentorship programs in which he has been involved.

The academy will also expand its governing board by adding three new seats. Those are to be filled by the group’s president with an eye toward increasing the number of women and minorities on the board. Currently, about a third of the board members are women and Ms. Isaacs is its only African-American.

In a parallel move, the academy will add new members from diverse backgrounds to its various committees.

Without providing details, the academy’s statement also said it would “supplement the traditional process” by which members are recruited — an invitation process meant to focus on achievement — with “an ambitious, global campaign to identify and recruit qualified new members who represent greater diversity.”

One person briefed on the changes, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of confidentiality strictures, said the supplemental recruiting would be a year-round process, and would be heavily influenced by staff and officers rather than traditional membership committees.

The changes, and possible adjustments to the Oscar balloting, will not affect the current awards, which will be presented on Feb. 28.

In the short term, the new rules and processes may tamp down at least some of the criticism that resulted when no film with a black theme was among this year’s eight best picture nominees, and all 20 acting nominees were white.

While Will Smith, who was overlooked as a nominee for his role in “Concussion,” has said he will not attend this year’s ceremony, Charlotte Rampling, who was nominated for best actress for “45 Years,” condemned much of the protest on Friday as being “racist to whites.”

“One can never really know, but perhaps the black actors did not deserve to make the final list,” Ms. Rampling said in an interview with the French radio network Europe 1 that was done before the academy made its announcement.

Still far from certain is whether the voting changes, and further possible tweaks to the Oscar ballot — for instance a return to the 10-film field of best picture nominees used in 2010 and 2011 — will restore the more diverse set of nominations that prevailed in the decade leading to the choice of “12 Years a Slave” as best picture in 2014.

In those 10 years, 24 of the 200 acting nominees were black, almost exactly matching the proportion of blacks in the North American movie audience and population, according to statistics compiled by the Motion Picture Association of America.

Black actors who won Oscars during that period included Octavia Spencer for “The Help”; Mo’Nique for “Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire”; Jennifer Hudson for “Dreamgirls”; and Jamie Foxx for “Ray.” When Mr. Foxx won, in 2005, he was also nominated for best supporting actor for his role in “Collateral.”

In 2014, Lupita Nyong’o was named best supporting actress for her role in “12 Years a Slave,” John Ridley won an Oscar for writing its adapted screenplay, and Steve McQueen, who is also black, was nominated as the film’s director, but lost to Alejandro González Iñárritu, who is Mexican.

In the following year, however, David Oyelowo was prominently snubbed by not being nominated for his role as Martin Luther King in “Selma,” a best picture nominee. The film’s director, Ava DuVernay, a black woman, was also not nominated.

This year’s shut-out of minority actors caused particular outrage among those who had believed Mr. Smith might be nominated for “Concussion,” or perhaps Michael B. Jordan for his role in “Creed.”

“Straight Outta Compton” faced a tougher climb in the acting categories, because its young cast was an ensemble, with no obvious leads. But the film has been nominated for a prestigious Screen Actors Guild ensemble award, and for a best film award from the Producers Guild of America.

For several years, Ms. Isaacs has been aligned with Dawn Hudson, the academy’s paid chief executive, in a drive to diversify the group’s membership. At its Governors Awards in November, Ms. Isaacs, without disclosing details, asked the academy’s roughly 6,200 members to join her in a drive she called “A2020,” which would aim to change the group’s makeup within five years.

With Friday’s announcement, some of the details of that plan have become clear.

The speed and breadth of the board’s Thursday night action surprised even some Academy insiders, who at midweek were predicting no action until a regularly scheduled board meeting on Tuesday, and who were strongly playing down any steps to trim the voting rights of older members.

How the academy deals with the intricacies of “activity’ in the film business may raise complex questions, said Mr. Weisman, the director. If, like Mr. Weisman, a director has had development deals that did not result in a film, will he be ruled inactive? Will writers who have generated scripts that weren’t bought, or made, likewise lose privileges? Might a cagey executive put a dormant publicist on low-cost retainer during Oscar season, protecting and perhaps influencing that member’s vote?

“This is a way to get this off their plates in advance of the awards show,” Mr. Weisman said, speaking by telephone shortly after the changes were disclosed.

In its statement on Friday, the Academy said those members who are moved to emeritus status because they have not met the new activity criteria would not pay dues, but would continue to enjoy the privileges of membership other than voting.

One of the most coveted of those privileges is inclusion by film companies on the lists of those sent “screeners” of films vying for nominations. It was not clear whether or how those companies might treat their own screener lists, knowing that some of the dormant members will no longer have a vote.



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